FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JAIL hotline releases first monthly report based on 148 calls about
conditions of confinement at OCDC - among myriad of issues plaguing the jail,
health care cited by prisoners as primary concern
15 January 2019 – A new volunteer hotline received 148 phone calls in the last month, the vast majority of which were from current prisoners, revealing a myriad of on-going issues at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). Approximately a quarter of the calls received from prisoners at the Innes Road jail cited health care as their primary concern.
Poor conditions of confinement and human rights violations have been commonplace at OCDC for decades, receiving widespread condemnation in media coverage, inquests into preventable jail deaths, reports by the Ontario Ombudsperson and most recently by the now disbanded Independent Review Team lead by Howard Sapers. Despite some recent reforms, including the 2014 creation of the Community Advisory Board, the implementation of the 2016 OCDC Task Force, and the 2018 passage of the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act which has not been proclaimed into force by the new provincial government, there remain profound problems at the Innes Road jail. It’s in this context that the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project launched the JAIL / Jail Accountability and Information Line on 10 December 2018. JAIL hotline volunteers work with prisoners and their loved ones to improve conditions of confinement at OCDC, as well as connect people to community care and service providers to help facilitate their safe re-entry into their communities upon release.
As is detailed in the JAIL hotline’s first monthly report, in several calls to the line, prisoners reported being assessed by medical and mental health professionals through their cell doors, a practice which came to light during last month’s inquest into the preventable death of Cleve “Cas” Geddes – who was living with schizophrenia and died by suicide in 2017 after being sent to OCDC instead of the Royal Ottawa Hospital for a judge-ordered psychological assessment. During the inquest, a jail psychologist who ‘assessed’ Cas through a segregation cell door noted this was “not a very therapeutic environment for an assessment”, while a deputy superintendent at OCDC noted the practice was being curbed through the availability of an interview room. Yet, many prisoners have reported that this dehumanizing and dangerous practice that inhibits care continues. One caller noted, “Half the time here you don’t get to go speak to the doctor privately... If you have personal issues the whole range can hear everything”. Another caller remarked, “You don’t feel safe about talking about mental health or other sensitive issues”. When a prisoner’s health conditions are out in the open, they can be perceived to be vulnerable, and become targets for violence and harassment. Space exists at OCDC for private health assessments and it ought to be used to the degree possible.
Other health matters reported to the JAIL hotline included the cutting-off or modification of the administration of prescriptions, which prevents OCDC prisoners from being able to follow their treatment regimen as directed by medical and/or mental health professionals. For instance, some callers reported that they’ve asked several times for their prescribed monthly shots to treat schizophrenia when they were in crisis, only to see their requests fall on deaf ears. Such inaction can lead prisoners to harm themselves or others, sometimes with lethal consequences. This must end.
As discussed in the JAIL hotline’s first monthly report, other issues reported by prisoners include: poor air quality; lack of cleanliness in some cells; inadequate winter gear to access yard; the inability of prisoners to call the cell phones of their loved ones and the above-market, high costs of collect calls; the predatory prices at canteen for basic necessities to maintain personal hygiene and food to supplement poor quality meals provided by the jail, and lower canteen account limits put in place last fall that require more frequent deposits by prisoners’ loved ones on-site; and lockdowns associated with incarcerating weekend prisoners at OCDC or transferring them to other facilities where they reported being “denied our basic rights”.
JAIL hotline coordinator Sarah Speight notes, “we’ve attempted to resolve the matters reported to us through various means, including phone calls and emails to the OCDC administration and Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services officials. While issues are occasionally resolved, officials suggest that adequate oversight mechanisms exist to address prisoner complaints. Given the volume and nature of the calls we’ve received to date, we disagree, and we’ll continue to work with prisoners and their loved ones to improve jail conditions”. Souheil Benslimane – who’s also a JAIL hotline coordinator – adds, “the official response to the issues we’ve raised with prisoners and their loved ones has been inadequate. This being the case, we’re going to release monthly reports and raise public awareness in other ways to hold OCDC, the Ministry, the provincial government, and private sector jail service providers to account for what’s taking place at the Innes Road jail in order to affect change. We don’t have a choice – the well-being of people, inside and outside jail walls, is at stake”.
To arrange for a media interview with report authors contact:
Justin Piché, PhD (Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa)
613-793-1093 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- "Recommendations to address longstanding issues at OCDC" by the Innes Road Jail Prisoners' Collective
- "Jail Accountability and Information Line - First Monthly Report" by Sarah Speight, Souheil Benslimane, Aaron Doyle and Justin Piché
- "Highlights from the JAIL Hotline's First Monthly Report" by the Jail Accountability and Information Line